LivAbility Magazine
Gary Karp juggles on a stage while in a wheelchair

By Gary Karp
Photo by Loren Worthington

What really made the difference was my deciding to turn off the doubts my brain kept, uh, throwing at me.

I hold a fairly unique distinction.

I’m one of a handful of wheelchair users who are accomplished jugglers — one of very few who are capable of “passing clubs”. (They’re not called “pins” by the way, and certainly not “bowling pins”.)

After several failed attempts to learn the basic three-ball pattern, I was convinced it was never to be. Then, in my early thirties, a new friend showed me an orderly, progressive sequence of steps that did the trick. I had it in a day.

He was part of what I learned was a broad, national community of jugglers. There was a weekly local gathering, and suddenly I was part of it all.

What really made the difference was my deciding to turn off the doubts my brain kept, uh, throwing at me. Yet my doubts persisted. Sure, I can do this basic pattern, but the fancy stuff I was witnessing from other jugglers? No way!

My paralysis — at T12 since 1973 when I was 18 — really didn’t have anything to do with those doubts. It was somehow just ingrained in me — and, I believe, in our western culture — to set my limits shorter than they really are.

Yet I repeatedly broke through what I persisted in telling myself I couldn’t do. Soon enough, I realized that there was no way to know my true limits until I went out to the edge to see for myself. Again and again, that edge proved further out than I thought. In due time, I was participating in complex group club passing patterns which had seemed inconceivable to me when I first witnessed them. I wasn’t yet involved with the disability community as this all unfolded. It wasn’t until 1999 with the publication of my first book, Life On Wheels, that I began building relationships throughout the national disability scene.

My experience as a juggler and the insights I was gaining from the disability communities came together into a profound revelation — these two worlds have a lot in common. Jugglers and people with disabilities — who have found a path forward — look at themselves and the world around them in terms of possibilities. We don’t let anyone tell us we can’t do what we sense we can. We at least have the right to find out for ourselves.

I never believed I could be an accomplished juggler. Nor would I have believed I would live for 43 years as a wheelchair user and achieve what I have.

This, I think, is the essence of the disability experience, so much akin to juggling. Not as an effort to “keep balls in the air”, but to get aligned with the natural patterns of our lives, and allow the possibilities to unfold. Anything I’ve done was simply there to do. The rest was up to me.

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Gary Karp

Gary Karp


Gary Karp has been writing, speaking and conducting trainings on disability since the release of the first of his four books, “Life On Wheels: For the Active Wheelchair User” in 1999. Gary is a full-time wheelchair user since his SCI at T12 in 1973 at the age of 18.